The Beginner’s Guide To The Cardboard Galaxy

I recently had a reader of the blog and follower on Twitter reach out to me with a topic request. Of course, considering how much I really love writing and brainstorming topics, I jumped on the opportunity. It really made a lot of sense but I hadn’t slowed down enough to consider it. Our hobby has a lot of guys like me that collected when they were younger but went away for various reasons. I left the hobby during the baseball strike of ’94 and didn’t come back because I had moved on to hot chicks by the time play resumed. Others left because of over production or just being burned out by the massive growth of the hobby. That could be a topic all on its own; why did you leave the hobby when you were a kid or teenager? I’ve heard a number of different reasons and they all are legit. But, it seems that a lot of us come back at some point like I did around the mid 2000’s.

Together with those of us who have returned to the hobby we grew up with in the 80’s-90’s, there is also a section of the hobby that is just brand new collectors. Those could be young kids just getting their first baseball cards or it could be an adult who never collected as a kid. No matter what makes you a “new collector”, being new at anything is always tough. Card collecting is no different, there are acronyms to learn, terminology to understand and there are ways to stretch your dollars when buying cards these days. The hobby from my early days is gone, though I go back quite often. The quality has changed, the hits have changed, the products have changed and the way you can buy them has changed.Those that never left and even those that came back almost 10 years ago like me have been able to adapt as these changes have taken place. Those that are new are just seeing a bunch of formulas, words and numbers going through Twitter and FaceBook and are left looking like Charlie in “It’s Always Sunny” tracking down Pepe Silvia. I must admit that I have trouble keeping up sometimes as well. I have learned to save all of Ryan Cracknell’s (@tradercracks) articles about set variations because I never know what I have anymore without it! But if we back up even more, new guys (and gals) don’t even know what variations are. This is all new. So per reader request, I have tried to put together a “Beginner’s Guide” of sorts to outline some of the more basic terms and acronyms that are thrown around in the collector community.

This may not be an all inclusive list but it’s a start and you are welcome to add your own info in the comment section of the post. I also don’t claim to be the all knowing of the hobby and its terms but I do try to help out my readers when I can and I am humbled to be asked to put this together. It means that at least one person is reading! And if you’re reading my blog, you’ve already accepted that there are going to be misquotes and misinformation!  When you get all of this mastered, you’re ready to graduate to GoGTS’ Glossary of Terms!  So let’s get the basics out of the way.Hobby Box – We’ll start simple. This is a box of cards that can be purchased in a hobby shop or online through various retailers. Hobby boxes and packs are generally more costly than retail and provides the buyer with more opportunity for nice hits. Hits will be defined loosely below for the absolute newbies. For example, a hobby box may advertise 2 autographs and 1 relic while a retail box of the same product may offer 1 autograph or relic. The boxes are usually identified with an “H” on the outside of the box.Retail Box – The opposite of hobby, the retail box or packs provides a more reasonable cost with less odds of pulling a hit. The old saying “You get what you pay for” applies to this situation. There is nothing wrong with retail if you just simply like collecting cards but if you are driven by autos or relics or short prints, hobby is worth the money. While these can also be found online, they are most prevalent at Target, Wal Mart, K Mart and other fine retailers near you. Besides fewer hits, another downside to retail is it is a more “unregulated” area of the hobby within stores and is often a target of Pack Searching. You can learn more about that here.Blaster Box – Another retail item is a blaster box. I think these are a direct result to the pack searching phenomenon discussed above. You can purchase a smaller number of packs than those in a full box but you aren’t left sifting through already opened and searched retail boxes for the product either. While the more savvy searchers can still make some determinations with the blaster box, it is far safer than the loose packs in retail. In addition, some blasters offer autographs and relics as a plus for buying them. If I go to retail, I will buy a blaster 100% of the time over loose packs.Repack Box – These boxes have a predetermined number of cards or packs in them that can be from several different products and sports. However, most of the time, they are sport specific and will give you a range of years. I can tell you that what you get is rarely what is advertised on the outside of the box, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise. I have seen VERY FEW hits come from a repack but it’s not entirely impossible. Overproduction has always been the bane of a card company’s existence so to combat leftover product, they will often sell it to third parties who put together these repacks. There have been the occasional nice repack products but by and large, they are not very exciting. “Lockers and Crates” on the other hand are the way to go if you want this sort of product because they generally consist of hobby packs. These are 1,000 times better than the big box repacks. The Loot Locker (@the lootlocker) is a good place to take a look at those.Mini Box – This is more of a hobby offered item and is generally associated with higher end product. Topps Museum, Topps Finest and Topps Stadium Club are some of the products that have recently gone with the mini box presentation. These can have anywhere from 1 to 10 packs within each mini box and the hit odds are usually per mini box. Topps Museum offers 3 autographs and 1 relic per master box which correlates 1 auto or relic per mini. There are 4 mini’s in a master box. I usually buy a master box if possible because the individual boxes are all the same price and one of those is only going to have a relic or patch in it.Base Card – So this is a real simple one. Base cards are the basic designed cards found in a set. These cards are the most produced and most accessible in packs. When a pack has 15 cards, you are most likely getting 14 base cards. Base cards are used to build sets and fill PC needs for most collectors. Base cards were mostly all you got back in the 80’s when I started collecting but card companies have really upped the ante with the various cards offered in sets in 2017. There is nothing wrong with base cards if you love collecting but remember kids, while there are millions of base cards, there is only one @basecardhero!Insert Card – This is where things start to get muddy. A basic insert card is any card that is not a base card in the set. When I started collecting, these were made up of Diamond Kings, All-Stars, Pro-Visions, etc. Today, they can be autographs, relics, patches, printing plates, booklets and a myriad of other options, in addition to the standard Diamond Kings, Postseason and All-Stars that are still offered. I consider an insert different than a variation although some people may just call it all inserts. I’ll have more on variations later.

Hits – This one should be simple. This is a card in the pack that generally has stated odds associated with it. Hits are outlined in more detail over the next several items.Serial Numbers – A quick search on shows that the first serial numbered card began with 1990 Pro Set’s Vince Lombardi Holograms. They really hit the ground running with the Donruss Elite cards in 1991. A serial numbered card is an individually numbered card out of a series of numbers. If there were 200 cards printed and you own one, you may own 10/200. That means you own the 10th card in the serial number run. These runs can range from as low as 1 to as high as the thousands. Obviously, the lower print run you get, the more valuable the card is. And it obviously doesn’t get any lower than a 1/1. These are available on most any card in a set from base cards to autographs.SP and SSP – These acronyms stand for Short Prints and Super Short Prints. Short prints used to be necessary in the hobby as it was a result of cards not being evenly distributed on sheets that didn’t divide into the number of cards in the set. Now, they are created by the card company to add intrigue and a chase to the collecting. Short prints are exactly how they sound, the print runs were shorter on these cards than others in the set, making them rarer. Super Short Prints are even more rare! Spotting these cards has become the challenge and that’s where Mr. Cracknell’s articles come in handy for me. I need someone else to tell me what I’m looking for sometimes. Although, on occasion I can spot two of the same cards in the set that have slight differences in appearance. At that point, I still have to go to the article to see which one is the actual short print.Variations – These have really become a beast in the hobby. Many sets thrive on variations in today’s market. Topps Heritage immediately comes to mind when thinking variations, although they are not alone. A variation is a card of a player in the base set that, you guessed it, varies in some way from the normal base card. These variations can be easily recognized or can take a card collecting genius. I’m cutting my teeth on the 1991 Topps variations that I never knew existed until earlier this year. Some examples of variations are cards with a throwback jersey, players not wearing a hat, players celebrating a win, nicknames instead of legal names, different colors on the cards, etc. The list can go on and on and on! Just take my word for it, no two variations are the same! They are a fun chase though in new products. You need to follow Ryan though to ever feel like you have even 1% knowledge of these things.

Errors – These differ from variations because, for the most part, they aren’t intentional. Now some card companies do errors on purpose but I still consider that a variation. The 90 Donruss Juan Gonzalez was an error and not a variation. The 2017 Topps Heritage Cards without the trade line on the back are variations, not errors. Just one man’s opinion! I’m not going to fight anyone who believes differently because I suppose I’m being hypocritical calling the 91 Topps “variations” instead of “errors” but I am a bit of an enigma.Patches/Relics – These are cards that have some item embedded in the card that is representative of the subject on the card. One such card that I have handy is this McKinley “White House Floor” relic card. The card has a photo of a US President and then a slab of the White House floor embedded in the card. There are cards with jersey’s, bats, bat knobs, helmets, gloves, footballs, baseballs, wrestling mats, lipstick outlines from kisses and more available in them. There are even patches with undergarments in them for you risqué collectors! These cards give you an opportunity to own something worn or used by the subject. The most sought after jersey pieces are ones that include multiple colors or letters or numbers. On the negative side, some relics are also cards created at the company and include small trophy replicas or coins that were never in the presence of the player. I think that blurs the line a little but I don’t work for card companies.Game Used – This type of product has come under fire in the last few years because proving something is in fact “game used” is very difficult. Just ask Eli Manning. But when companies advertise that something is game used, it is a patch or relic as outlined above that was allegedly used in an actual sporting event. Some relics/patches are used at photo shoots and that’s all they are but every now and again, you find that grass stained patched or piece of helmet with a foreign color on it from a big hit. Those are the good ones! Again, I don’t know how legit they all are but they are still cooler than the basic one color patches. For now, I am going to take the word of Panini, Topps and Upper Deck when they make that claim. But always know that there is a big difference in Game-Used and Player Worn.TTM – This stands for Through The Mail. One way to get autographs from players that you aren’t able to see locally is to send cards to them TTM. There are various resources to find information and address for players and teams but my go to is @autographblog. I have had reasonable luck with TTM but you have to be patient when seeking this type of autograph. You almost have to send it and forget it. The return is always a nice surprise! I always drop a little personal note to the player, whether they read it or not. It is just the right thing to do in my opinion. You also have to send SASE (Self Addressed Stamped Envelope) with the card and personal note. I always put my address as the return address on the SASE as well to avoid any prying hands at the USPS. Believe me it happens and I experienced it with a Wade Boggs TTM once. Envelope came back with a slit on the end and it was completely empty.IP – This stands for In-Person autograph. Along with TTM, this is the other common way to add autographs to your collection when you can’t buy boxes and boxes of cards. Of course, there is an art to this and success varies with players and venues. I have always had good luck obtaining autographs, they just haven’t always been the exact player I was looking for. So, I’ve changed my intentions from seeking certain players to going in with an open mind and taking what I can get to add to my collection. Keep in mind that TTM and IP autographs are intended for personal collections and are not authenticated. I’m not saying they can’t be bought and sold, it’s just not the intention of the practice. You can easily spot the guys who are there for the sale. I have no issue with anyone selling memorabilia and autographs but I find it out of place at the ballpark and fan appreciation events. Generally, I think it you get it for free directly from the player, then that’s how it should stay. Again, one man’s opinion.PWE – Plain White Envelope – I must admit that this was a new one for me when I got started on Twitter. Probably because I didn’t do much trading and only bought and sold on eBay. When I ship things that people purchase, I always use bubble mailers and tracking, etc. But when doing giveaways, it’s sometimes economical to send via PWE and stamps. It saves money and allows for more giveaways. Now, I still send the majority of my mail in bubble mailers but I will mail occasionally in a PWE when the circumstances are right.Shipping – Speaking of shipping, there are a few do’s and don’ts that I have discussed before but could be repeated. To piggyback on the above, if someone pays you money to ship something, ship it in a bubble mailer or something similar. Use tracking so the buyer can see what’s going on. Communicate with the buyer until the item arrives. Use toploaders, one touches and team bags. NEVER TAPE A TOPLOADER WITH SCOTCH TAPE! There are instances when taping cases or holders is admissible but they should at least have pull tabs in those instances. You should never have your buyer trying to peel tape with fingernails. It’s just unprofessional. Always ship timely! And always acknowledge a buyer and a shipper when things go smoothly.Card Holders/Sizes – When storing and shipping cards, it’s important to choose the right toploaders. I’m just going to link this story from Ryan HERE and leave it at that. He’s already done the work on this. Again, you should be following him!

I hope this covers some of the basics for collectors that are just beginning. It can be an overwhelming hobby in the beginning but there are great, kind people that will help you along the way. If you’re looking for some of those people, I’ve mentioned them in several of my posts. You can also check my follow list. This is a great community we have here and you should never be afraid to ask questions. We are all here to help each other enjoy this hobby. If you have anything to add, please place it in the comment section for others. Thanks


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